Ground work starts for Stratford's second meeting
THE clocks going forward this weekend heralds the start of Spring and, with a change in the weather bringing sunshine and chilly winds, clerk of the course Nessie Chanter has been watering the hurdles track ahead of Stratford’s second meeting of the season on Saturday, writes David Hucker.
Although the going was described on Tuesday as good, with good to soft places on the chase course, it doesn’t take long in the current conditions to dry out and, with no rain forecast, clerks around the country will be trying to maintain the ground and prevent it turning firm so early in the year.
There is free admission to Saturday’s meeting for Racing TV subscribers on production of their metal badge and, with 176 entries across the seven-race card, there should be some competitive racing to enjoy.
Top of the bill is the Class Three Get Value On Course Handicap Chase over two and three-quarter miles for horses rated 0-135, which has attracted 18 entries with the regular weights headed by the veteran Cut The Corner, a winner over the course last June.
His form hasn’t measured up to that in five races since and he returned after a break to finish last of six at Doncaster earlier this month.
Also entered is the 137-rated Princeton Royale, who would have to carry 12-0 and is also in at Ascot on Sunday.
After making the running, he dropped back quickly after the 13 fence to finish tailed-off, beaten 103 lengths behind Sizing Tennessee at Fontwell Park in October.
Bestwork, trained at Over Norton by Charlie Longsdon, is another course winner, making all the running from a handicap mark of 102 to beat Sage Monkey in July 2017.
He has won three more races since, including from a rating of 120 at Worcester last summer, but comes back after a break, having pulled up on soft ground at Aintree in December.
He will like the better ground on Saturday and is also engaged in the later Bet With The Course Bookmakers Handicap Chase.
Whilst his trainer has the choice of races, he is probably best watched for now in whichever one he runs.
Alcester trainer Dan Skelton has two entries in the shape of Set List, lightly raced this season, and Value At Risk, a winner at Market Rasen two races ago.
Set List ran in snatches at Fakenham last time, but is well-handicapped on his win over the course in 2016 when trained by Emma Lavelle.
Skelton started the week on the 175 winner mark, a career-best figure and one which has only been beaten by the legendary Martin Pipe.
The only trainer to have scored a double-century in a season, Pipe achieved the feat eight times, with a best total of 243.
The action kicks off at 1.55pm with the Support Your Oncourse Bookmaker Novices' Hurdle (Novices' Championship Hurdle Series qualifier) over two miles and half a furlong, in which Skelton has three entries, including Peppay Le Pugh, a course winner over fences and successful over hurdles at Doncaster at the start of the month.
On official ratings, Black Key, who won twice in Ireland for trainer Henry De Bromhead before joining Donald McCain, would have a good chance in the Bet With Tattersalls Bookmakers Selling Hurdle.
He made his British debut in a Listed race, being rated at 137, well above a selling class mark.
Wilmcote trainer Olly Murphy has entered two, with the former Willie Mullins trained American Tom, once rated 148 over fences, looking to have the better credentials.
Cliffside Park finished a long way behind his stable companion at Fakenham last time, but has won over the course when beating Buble by a wide margin and would go close on that form.
Second-most valuable race on the card is the £11,000 Join Stratford Racecourse 25 Club Handicap Hurdle over an extended three-and-a-quarter miles and Set List also features here along with 14 other entries, the best of which may be Ocean Cove, who bounced back to form at Warwick and has to overcome a 7lb rise in the weights for a neck win.